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News Archive

Liverpool’s World Heritage Status Threatened by New Development

A delegation of inspectors from UNESCO visited Liverpool this November, and indicated that unless the current £5.5 billion Liverpool Waters project is radically changed, UNESCO will recommend the city be stripped of its world heritage status.

Peel Holdings’s Liverpool Waters project will see shops, restaurants and offices built in an effort to regenerate the deprived northern docklands area of the city. Part of this new scheme is the controversial Shanghai Tower, which takes inspiration from a Chinese city rather than from the immediate surroundings (although UNESCO’s decision to grant Liverpool’s world heritage status was ironically taken at a meeting near Shanghai). Peel Holdings have already made a concession on the height by reducing the building to 55 storeys, and say they will not compromise any further on the scheme.

Liverpool was awarded world heritage status in 2004 because of its waterfront which, according to UNESCO, represents a ‘supreme example of a commercial port at the time of Britain’s greatest global significance.’ The world heritage site officially begins at the Albert Dock, which boasts the UK’s largest collection of Grade I listed buildings, continues along the Pier Head, and ends at Stanley Dock. The site also incorporates the inland parts of the city that were associated with the work of the port. It includes the neoclassical St George’s Hall and the Edwardian ‘three graces’, the Royal Liver, Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings, all of which have been a fundamental part of the city’s built identity for nearly 100 years.

Liverpool's Three GracesUNESCO’s guidelines indicate that new buildings within the world heritage site do not have to be copies of the historic buildings, but that they should take the design of their historic context into consideration. World heritage status has been a major contributor to pride in the city and to its image as a culturally and historically vibrant place. The leader of the UNESCO delegation, Ron van Oers, was quoted as saying that ‘[t]he way that the world heritage committee will eventually rule about this case is going to be part of case law that is going to be used by the … committee later on.’ UNESCO’s decision for Liverpool will have significant impact on future decisions for other sites and monuments around the world.

This current situation highlights the unfortunate reality that large-scale modernist developments, with tall glass buildings devoid of any sense of place, continue to be viewed as synonymous with progress, regardless of the wider consequences. It should be possible for Liverpool and other cities with world heritage sites to preserve their history and built identity without feeling they are sacrificing progress and development.

The Tower of London and the Palace of Westminster have also been warned by UNESCO that they could be put on the UN's Heritage in Danger List, as they are becoming overshadowed by skyscrapers which threaten their historical value.

The inspectors’ report will be written by 23rd December and will be sent to Liverpool council and Peel Holdings within 2-4 weeks. The UNESCO committee will vote on its findings in June 2012.

Artist's impression of proposed Liverpool Waters. Photograph: Rust Design/

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